Doubts around service record of Army veteran who fabricated homeless vet story

Doubts around service record of Army veteran who fabricated homeless vet story
U.S. Army veteran Sharon Toney-Finch. Photo credit Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The U.S. Army veteran who made false claims about homeless veterans being evicted from New York hotels because a busload of migrants needed to be housed in their place claims she was awarded the Purple Heart. However, conflicting records now raise doubts about whether she did receive that honor.

Earlier this month, Army vet Sharon Toney-Finch claimed that the charity she started, the Yerik Israel Toney (YIT) Foundation, had been paying to house a group of some 20 homeless veterans at The Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh, only for the hotel to evict the veterans so migrants bused 70 miles from New York City could stay at the hotel. In investigating the claims, the Mid-Hudson News discovered them to be a fabrication and that the men Toney-Finch claimed were homeless veterans, were local homeless men she allegedly organized to pose as veterans.

Toney-Finch also has claimed to have been awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action during a tour of duty in Iraq in 2010. However, the U.S. Army has no records of her ever being awarded that honor.

“We do not have any records for a Purple Heart being awarded for this individual,” Army spokesperson Bryce S. Dubee told Connecting Vets in an email.

Dubee did confirm that Toney-Finch served as an Automated Logistical Specialist (92A) in the Regular Army from February 2006 to November 2015 and that she deployed to Iraq from March 2007 to May 2008 and from October 2009 to October 2010.

According to Dubee, Toney-Finch’s awards include: the Army Commendation Medal (4th award); Army Achievement Medal (3rd award); Army Good Conduct Medal (3rd award); National Defense Service Medal; Iraq Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon (3rd award); Driver Mechanic Badge w/Driver-Wheeled Vehicle(s).

Toney-Finch made claims to being a Purple Heart recipient on her personal Facebook page and in interviews; a bio on the website for the Hudson Valley Center for Veteran Reintegration (which lists her as a board member of the non-profit) includes the claim she is a disabled combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient and the claim that she received the Purple Heart is repeated in her bio for her 2022 induction into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Her bio on the NY Senate Veterans Hall of Fame website claims that her injuries occurred when serving at Iraq’s Camp Kalsu when her convoy was attacked with IEDs. “She was able to save three of her soldiers during the attack and was awarded the Purple Heart,” the bio read.

From those injuries, Toney-Finch has claimed she was transferred to Germany where she underwent over 50 surgeries and suffered from “a traumatic brain injury and PTSD due to the incident.” Toney-Finch has claimed she has had a total of 82 surgeries due to her wounds.

An Army spokesperson was “unable to comment on any particulars of her medical history due to privacy concerns.”

In addition to there being no record of her receiving a Purple Heart, the Times-Union noted there is no record indicating she received a Combat Service Award normally given to soldiers “personally present and under hostile fire,” according to Army officials.

However, the New York-based National Purple Heart Hall of Honor has Toney-Finch registered as a Purple Heart recipient and director Anita Pidala told the Union-Times that Toney-Finch had provided a copy of her DD-214, Army separation papers, which indicated that she had received a Purple Heart when she voluntarily enrolled with the organization.

Toney-Finch told the Times-Union on Friday that "you cannot fake a DD-214" and her separation form was updated after she was discharged to reflect the Purple Heart and offered to provide medical records documenting surgeries and combat injury to the paper.

But officials with the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command told the Times-Union this week they could not verify from their records that ”Sharon Toney received a Purple Heart.” And officials with the Army’s Public Affairs Office, who reviewed her service records and a copy of her DD-214 in their files, told the paper this week the records did not indicate she received a Purple Heart.

In addition, the bio for her NY Senate Veterans Hall of Fame claims Toney-Finch "achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 2."

But according to a U.S. Army spokesperson, “she held the rank of Specialist at the end of service.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK